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The Top 50 SNES Games

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Best Super Nintendo Games Best SNES Games

You might not believe it, but it’s absolutely true: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or the SNES, for short, is now old enough to have serious regrets about its life, and if you’re old enough to have had one of these wee grey boxes in your living room, then you’re probably even older.

Inspiring stuff right? In all seriousness, though, the SNES is certainly one of the all-time greats in the console department and now that Nintendo is starting to add SNES games to the online Switch library, what better way to celebrate than to list our top 50 SNES games.

We gathered together some of our best and brightest to help us celebrate, and we hope you’ll join us too!

Best SNES Games #50. Super Mario All-Stars

While there’s little argument that the red plumber’s SNES debut, Super Mario World, is certainly his finest moment on the console, this little retro package certainly gives that dinosaur filled classic a run for its money.

While there’s little argument that the red plumber’s SNES debut, Super Mario World, is certainly his finest moment on the console, this little retro package certainly gives that dinosaur filled classic a run for its money. Comprising not only the original classic Super Mario Bros, but also its oddball sequel Super Mario Bros 2, and the untouchable cornerstone of any quality childhood, Super Mario Bros 3. As if these games weren’t enough to justify the price tag, this package also includes the infamous Lost Levels from the original game as well, previously only playable in Japan.

Comprising not only the original classic Super Mario Bros, but also its oddball sequel Super Mario Bros 2, and the untouchable cornerstone of any quality childhood, Super Mario Bros 3. As if these games weren’t enough to justify the price tag, this package also includes the infamous Lost Levels from the original game as well, previously only playable in Japan.

It’s a rather robust quartet and one of the best purchases a parent could make for their wee ones back in the 90s. Literally, dozens of hours of entertainment can be found in these four games, and if you were too young to have experienced them on the NES, then the deal was all the sweeter. (Mike Worby)

Best SNES Games #49. Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon is the original farming sim, with a legacy that goes back all the way to 1996 on the SNES. On paper, the game doesn’t sound very exciting and yet, surprisingly, Natsume’s smash hit managed to make farm simulation fresh and interesting. Working through the seasons planting goods, meeting new characters, attending festivals, finding hidden treasures and getting married all paid off at the very end. It spawned an entire franchise, and some would argue a sub-genre, and it remains a shining example of the RPG genre done right. With all the secrets available in this game, there is more than enough reason to revisit this gem in the present day. If you’re a fan of simulation and RPG elements, this is definitely worth a try! (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #48. Super Star Wars

Following the tradition of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the SNES was home to huge amounts of licensed video games. Unlike its NES predecessor, however, the SNES delivered a fantastic series of Star Wars games that deserves to be counted among the consoles best run and gun platformers. Super Star Wars began the adaptations of the popular films for SNES owners, who were treated to labors of love that brought the world of Star Wars to life (or as well as they could be for a 16-bit system).

The platforming elements themselves were addicting and interspersed with other levels in which the player could control a land speeder or X-wing. But it was the different levels of difficulty that kept people coming back. The hardest levels of Super Star Wars approach Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts territory in terms of frustration, but SNES users were probably already used to masochistic tendencies when picking up a Nintendo controller. Later generations of gamers who grew up on things like Knights of the Old Republic might balk at the Super Star Wars franchise were they to play it now, but all the successful Star Wars games of different genres that came after Super Star Wars owe a debt to its huge popularity. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #47. Mega Man X3

The Mega Man X series was just the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed after so many similar titles having been released on the NES in such rapid-fire succession, and Mega Man X3 might be the best game the spin-off series ever produced.

In addition to refining the mechanics from the first two Mega Man X titles, X3 also let players step into the boots of X’s badass, plasma-sword wielding partner, Zero. Easily the coolest character in the X series, it was particularly thrilling to play as Zero this time around, even if it was only for a short time.

With a great selection of bosses, carefully hidden upgrades, and fantastic music, Mega Man X3 is one of the best Mega Man games ever released and is still worth replaying even today. (Mike Worby)

Best SNES Games #46. The Death and Return of Superman

Easily one of the biggest cultural moments of the 90s was the death of perhaps the most iconic character in American history, Superman. Though he would eventually be resurrected, this was before the cavalcade of me-too superhero death stories that followed, so at the time it was believable that the Man of Steel could truly be gone for good.

The story of his death and eventual return is retold in the aptly titled brawler, The Death and Return of Superman. The game tells the tale as well as can be expected for any game from the time period, giving ample screen time to all of the Man of Tomorrow’s would-be successors, before making way for the eventual reveal that Superman is alive after all.

It’s a classic tale retold wonderfully well in its new medium, and a whole lot of fun to play. There was nothing quite like being put in control of some of the coolest comic book characters of the 90s during one of the best stories ever told about Superman. The Death and Return of Superman still stand as one of the best brawlers on the SNES, and it isn’t hard to see why. (Mike Worby)

Best SNES Games #45. SimCity

Before The Sims gave us death by swimming pool, SimCity threw $10,000 our way and told us to get building. Released as a launch title for the SNES, SimCity feels different even to this day. Its mood is contemplative. The soundtrack is oddly soothing. Nurturing a city takes time, but the gameplay can be picked up in minutes.

It doesn’t really matter that SimCity starts in 1900 and yet there are nuclear power plants and planes crashing all over the place. The little inconsistencies hardly detract from a game that rejects an in-your-face storytelling experience and instead sits back and gives the player room to ruin or create as they see fit. Plus all those pollution warnings probably did more for environmental awareness in the 90s than the Clinton administration.

The player-as-God scenario isn’t what makes SimCity great. It’s that we actually get time to care. Our tiny palette of icons may be the functional mechanic that allows us to paint our city however we imagine it, but time is our main currency outside of, you know, actual money. Seasons change from winter to spring, and we can take a breather to sit back and admire our city before letting Bowser reduce it to ashes. Moving a cursor around with the D-pad never felt so satisfying.

That doesn’t mean the controls aren’t clunky as hell. And the game’s looping soundtrack, despite being tied into city level and changing as you advance, does sometimes make you want to self-harm.

SimCity is simply too addictive for it to matter. When the intro screen loads and the music plays over a scene of skyscrapers at night, we have to push start.

No other SimCity has come close. (Luke Geraghty)

Best SNES Games #44. Kirby Super Star

Kirby Superstar is one of the best values on the system. Instead of one linear traditional adventure, gamers get to choose from eight different experiences on one cartridge. This is also one of the few instances in which players get the best of both worlds, quantity, and quality. Each game can easily stand on its own and provide plenty of fun and replay value, however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few standouts among the group. Gamers looking for a more traditional Kirby experience will likely have a blast with Spring Breeze or Milky Way Wishes, whereas those looking for a challenge can have a go at The Arena. Gourmet Race is probably the most unique title on the cartridge, as Kirby must race King De-de-de to the end of the stage while collecting as much food as possible. It offers a nice distraction between playing the other games and can become quite addictive when doing the time trial modes.

When Kirby Superstar was released back in 1996, there was nothing else like it at the time. The amount of content in the game put it head and shoulders above the competition, leaving very few players bored. While a superior sequel was released for the DS years later called Kirby Superstar Ultra, the original must still be appreciated for its innovation within the platforming genre that was excelling on the SNES at the time. It’s one of Kirby’s finest and most diverse outings. (Zack Rezak)

Best SNES Games #43. Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

The last of the three installments released in the Super Nintendo’s groundbreaking Super Star Wars series, Super Return of the Jedi promised more of the same great experience offered as its two forerunners, and boy did LucasArts deliver.

Like the previous two outings, Super Return of the Jedi is a 2D platformer in which you take on the Star Wars universe, only this time around the roster of playable characters grew to five (Luke, Chewie, Han, Wicket and Princess Leia, who wears her bounty hunter disguise and Endor forest survival gear at the various points in the game). With its toned-down difficulty, depth and polished presentation, Super Return of the Jedi is considered by many to be the best of the three games in the series. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #42. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals

Lufia II, a prequel to the original Lufia, has the incredible distinction of being one of the best RPGs on a console with quite possibly the best library of RPGs ever. While Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III (VI) are appropriately in another tier of gaming altogether, Lufia II is one of the few games that has a legitimate claim to being the best of the rest.

A huge part of its strength comes from being a classic, traditional RPG on the surface but exhibiting non-traditional RPG (at least for the Japanese-developed RPGs that populated the console library) elements in its gameplay. Lufia II has a much greater emphasis on puzzle solving than, say, a Final Fantasy game. It borrows elements from The Legend of Zelda series, incorporating vast dungeons that require as much thinking as they do grinding. There are also several side quests that pad the already sizable main narrative, making Lufia II one of the longer RPG experiences on the console for completionists.

And even though the main story and conflict surrounding Lufia II’s characters aren’t as classic or memorable as many of the other well-written RPGs for the SNES, its ultimately Lufia II’s commitment to gameplay that makes it such a powerhouse. Little tweaks, such as the IP gauge that gives you different abilities to perform based on equipment or Capsule Monsters (a Pokemon-lite kind of monster collecting and leveling system that allows you to bring a buddy into battles), give Lufia II a unique personality that separates itself from so many of its peers.

A much-loved, little-played series in general, Lufia games are hard to come by, making Lufia II an expensive cartridge to pick up (and it is not available on the Virtual Console). DS owners, though, may be able to find a remake, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, which is completely revamped into an action-RPG instead of the turn-based system the SNES original uses. In any way it can be experienced, Lufia II is a genuinely must-play RPG. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #41. R-Type III: The Third Lightning

Nintendo certainly has a storied history of classic shmups. Among the strongest games on the original NES were Life Force, Gradius and The Guardian Legend, each a perfect example of how simultaneously addicting and frustrating the sub-genre of shooters can be at its best. In the case of R-Type III, more of the same goes a long way with the added sound and graphical capabilities of the system.

Like any shmup worth its salt, R-Type III is teeth-grindingly difficult. It is a speedrunner’s kind of game in the sense that memorization is absolutely essential to success. Each of its six stages is huge and has an array of details to new settings and enemies, including memorable and thrilling boss battles. But in the process of beating each level, players will undoubtedly become familiar by way of death after death after death.

This, though, is the kind of challenge that gives R-Type III and other shmups longevity and replayability (there is also a two-player mode, which makes for even more sensory chaos), because there is nothing unfair or cheap about the difficulty level. Unfortunately, the game and series are nowhere to be seen on the Virtual Console, but a watered-down GBA port is available if you can’t find a copy of the SNES cartridge. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #40. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble 

This third installment was one of the Super Nintendo’s last hurrahs. Released in 1996, it immediately seemed archaic against the new three-dimensional Mario title, released two months before on Nintendo’s next-generation 64-bit machine. It was also the weakest entry in the Donkey Kong Country franchise, marred by the inexcusable introduction of the sluggish, babyish Kiddy Kong, and by needless updates that sacrifice usability for visual splendor, like the lovingly-designed vehicles that awkwardly transport players between worlds.

Nevertheless, Donkey Kong Country 3 features on this list because the franchises core values remain intact: fast-paced gameplay, sublime graphics, bountiful secrets, varied level design, and spectacular music. Level in and level out, composers David Wise and Eveline Fischer (who would go on to provide Joanna Dark’s voice) produce melancholy, funky, and industrial sounds to accompany the player’s quest. More than other platforming series, Donkey Kong Country always placed an accent on atmosphere, which has allowed the series to remain fresh and relevant in this age of arty, side-scrolling, indie platformers. (Guido Pellegrini)

Best SNES Games #39. Illusion of Gaia

Genre(s) Action RPG Illusion of Gaia was something of a spiritual sequel to Soul Blazer, with very loosely linked gameplay and story elements. Named Illusion of Time in Europe, the game put you in command of Will, a young adventurer with latent psychic abilities and the power to morph himself into the fully-grown adult body of a knight and also the alien-like lifeform named Shadow. Saving the world required using each version of the hero at the appropriate time. As an action-RPG, Illusion of Gaia fails in the RPG section but shines well in its action. Although not as close to perfection as its predecessor, it still manages to be one of the most entertaining action RPGs available on the SNES, and a fitting second game in a trilogy. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #38. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Unlike the 8-bit generation, there were only a few games released on the SNES that became infamous for their vicious and unrelenting difficulty – Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts might be the hardest of the bunch. This SNES sequel to the NES rage-inducing Ghosts ‘N Goblins was just as likely to have players throwing their controllers across the room. On the surface, the game looks like any other side-scrolling platformer, but tackling the game’s challenging and unrelenting levels is no easy feat. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a hard game to beat and I do mean hard, but that is also why Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is such a great game. It’s challenging design philosophy, atmosphere and story helped pave the way for contemporary classics such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and mastering Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts gave an unparalleled sense of accomplishment. For those of you have finished the game, you most likely agree this should be higher up on our list.  (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #37. Zombies Ate My Neighbors

This run and gun game developed by LucasArts and originally published by Konami for the Super NES wasn’t exactly a commercial success, but it was well received and praised for its graphical style, warped humor, and deep gameplay. Back when local couch multiplayer was the lifeblood that kept games forever replayable, Zombies Ate My Neighbors offered kids countless hours of ridiculous non-stop fun while navigating through the game’s 48 main levels and 7 bonus levels in order to rescue the titular neighbors from monsters often seen in horror movies.

Aiding the protagonists Zeke and Julie are a variety of weapons such as tomatoes, weed whackers, bazookas, holy crucifixes and more, along with various power-ups that can be used to battle the numerous enemies scattered throughout. Meanwhile, assorted elements and aspects of popular horror movies are referenced in the game with some of its more violent content being censored in various territories such as Europe and Australia, where it is known only as Zombies. This love letter to B-grade horror films is a rare gem and a cult classic that absolutely deserves all of its praise. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #36. Breath of Fire II

Unlike the original Breath of Fire, the SNES sequel in Capcom’s overlooked RPG series is an in-house production (Square Soft, a god amongst third parties at the time, helped localize the first game). The result is a love letter of a project that is a little rough around the edges. Though similar to its predecessor, it is ultimately a better game than Breath of Fire and a fine addition to the SNES library of RPGs that would set the series on a course for true greatness.

Different versions of the characters Ryu and Nina return in Breath of Fire II and would become series staples. The rest of the cast is full of lively personalities and poignant archetypes that add to a wider scope and much-improved storyline of redemption. In the same way that the PlayStation’s Suikoden II is essentially the same game as Suikoden—just a lot better—Breath of Fire II builds on every layer of the foundation built by Breath of Fire (the only exception possibly being that the music lacks some of the charm).

Capcom’s most successful traditional RPG series, Breath of Fire would make the jump to the Sony consoles and produce three more main series games. And while the third and fourth installments are the most rich experiences overall, the first two make up an of-the-era pair that is deeply nostalgic and indicative of how simplicity of design and vision isn’t necessarily a drawback if tone and atmosphere are done right. Both games are available in Game Boy Advance ports and on the Wii U Virtual Console. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #35. Final Fight

Final Fight — which was originally titled Street Fighter ’89 but had its name changed just before release — was a massive arcade hit across the globe and given Capcom’s close relationship with Nintendo, it became a launch exclusive for Nintendo’s 16-bit console. However, what fans got wasn’t all that it was hyped up to be. Final Fight is one of the earliest titles for the system, and due to the hardware limitations of the Super Nintendo, Capcom was forced to make some changes from the port of the original 1989 arcade game. The removal of co-op, for example, eliminated one of the most appealing features present in most beat ’em ups and Nintendo’s censorship policies ultimately replaced several characters including the iconic boss, Rolento.

Despite all of this, many of the core factors that make Final Fight so appealing are still intact, and the SNES version helped define what 16-bit home console brawlers would be. Capcom’s classic does not stand the test of time but it was evolutionary, taking the beat-’em-up structure of games like Double Dragon to the next level. And for that, it deserves a spot on our list! (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #34. Earthworm Jim 2

The SNES certainly had its fair share of weird titles, however, few can come close to EarthWorm Jim 2 when it comes to strangeness. Jim’s second outing is vastly different from his first. What was once a consistent side-scrolling shooter is now a varied assortment of odd genres? Each level shakes up the gameplay in some pretty interesting ways, so much so that it would be hard to tell they were all part of the same game. In fact, some of these stage descriptions sound more like a drug trip than an actual video game level. One stage has Jim disguise himself as a blind cave salamander in order to swim through a series of intestines. At the end of the stage, the player is thrown into a game show that could result in the loss of the mealworms they collected throughout the stage. Another has Jim dodging falling grandmas while riding a stair-lift. Normal stuff.

What makes this title special is how the unique gameplay structure complements the game’s personality. Every level is so odd and different from the last; it’s impossible to tell what’s coming next. A funky synth-filled soundtrack and beautiful environments bring the whole package together to form one of the strangest yet most fun titles on the SNES. As Jim would say, it’s GROOVY! (Zack Rezak)

Best SNES Games #33. Pilot Wings

One of only three different launch titles available to own alongside your newly-purchased SNES back in 1991, Pilotwings was a basically a tech demo for the Super NES’ Mode 7 that created the illusion of depth by taking flat surfaces and presenting them from any angle. But as much as it was a graphical showcase, it was surprisingly enjoyable as well.

Pilotwings was an odd title and while it may not be fondly remembered by most, those who chose to delve deep into its depths swear by how great it is. Regardless of how you feel about the game, it spawned a new Nintendo franchise and gave gamers a glimpse of what would later come with the N64. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #32. Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim is a run and gun 2D platformer that stars Jim, an earthworm who obtains an ultra-high-tech-indestructible robotic suite to defeat his foes. It’s up to Jim to save the princess from the likes of Psy-Crow, Professor Monkey-for-a-Head, Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed and the final boss, Slug-for-a-Butt.

At the time of its release, Earthworm Jim was praised for its unique cartoon style animation, refined gameplay, mind-bending soundtrack, and strange characters. They honestly, rarely make games like this anymore, and though subsequent generations have tried to revive the series, it has never been met with success. Earthworm Jim is part of the grand tradition of balls-to-the-wall games in the vein of Psychonauts and Monkey Island and comes highly recommended for those who prefer a unique brand of oddball charm. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #31. Mega Man X

Following up the critical and commercial success of Mega Man X was no small task, but Mega Man X2 did an admirable job. The plot follows the android protagonist, X, who has saved humanity only six months prior. Now a trio of Mavericks calling themselves the X-Hunters have arisen, intent on destroying X by luring him with body parts of his colleague Zero, who sacrificed himself during the conflict with Sigma in the first X game.

This second installment gives the android protagonist X, five new cyborg sub-bosses to battle, and seventeen bosses, both new and old, including Bubble Crab, Crystal Snail, Wheel Gator, and Overdrive Ostrich. Just like the games before it, Mega Man X2 doesn’t really do much in the way of innovation. It features much of the same action-platforming elements dating back to the original Mega Man series. While it isn’t groundbreaking in any way, X2 comes highly recommended to anybody that enjoys the previous title. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #30. Mario Paint

In 1993, according to the US Census Bureau, only 31.9 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17 had access to a computer at home, while 60.6 used one at school. Now that we’re all surrounded by monitors and devices, it can be difficult to imagine a time when most youngsters were not born into a menagerie of desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and e-readers. As William Gibson once said: “It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future.”

Mario Paint, released in 1992, was a bizarre concoction and, for many children, this writer included, an introduction to personal computer literacy. A spruced up Microsoft Paint, it came with a mouse and a pad, which made the title as expensive as it was irresistibly novel. Along with basic music generation and animation tools, to produce short and crude videos, it also offered a ridiculous fly-swatting mini-game, a throwback to simple arcade gameplay before retro gaming turned into a millennial cliché.

This kind of compartmentalized experience was not common on the Super Nintendo. There was usually the one game included in the cartridge, and that was it. Games within games would be more prevalent in later years. But Mario Paint incorporated the windowed logic of an operating system and allowed users to engage in different kinds of activities, save their work, and combine it.

This merging of the personal computer and console interfaces anticipated the gaming future, when consoles would behave like low-end, web-ready desktops with home screens, as comfortable with YouTube videos as with The Last of Us. And it also reflected the immediate past, when a personal computer like the Commodore 64 could compete with consoles (and is now often, albeit erroneously, equated with them); and the Nintendo Entertainment System, even as it popularized the concept of simplified, kid-friendly, plug-in-and-play gaming, was compatible with specialized modems, disk systems, and the Family BASIC, a cartridge-and-keyboard bundle for game programming. Mario Paint, then, taught many children an obvious but easily forgotten fact: consoles are computers, too.  (Guido Pellegrini)

Best SNES Games #29. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Though not as influential as its predecessor, this sequel is nevertheless a summation of everything that is enjoyable and exciting about the franchise. Like its prequel, it eschews the impossible and abstract architecture of other platformers, like Mario and Sonic, and instead settles for, not precisely real-world locations, but at least recognizable environments–twisted versions of jungles and factories, frozen mountains and carnival fun-houses, distorted visions of places we might conceivably visit in real life (save for some notable, honeycombed exceptions).

Diddy’s Kong Quest places the lumbering Donkey Kong in an uncharacteristic Princess Peach role: as the captured person (well, primate) of interest, who must be rescued from the villain. In his absence, Diddy Kong becomes the protagonist, while his girlfriend – the lithe, ponytail-twirling, hovering Dixie Kong – tags along as his partner. Both are quick and nimble, and together, they make this into the most frantic, agile installment of Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. (Guido Pellegrini)

Best SNES Games #28. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has a bit of a strange twin in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Both followed widely acclaimed and genre-defining games, and somehow both chose to do somewhat similar yet insanely different things with their respective sequels.

In the case of Yoshi’s Island, it was casting Yoshi as the hero, rather than Mario, and relegating the latter to a screeching infantile annoyance instead of the protagonist. Baby Mario’s recurring cry is probably the number one reason not to enjoy this game but luckily there’s a host of new ideas that more than make up for it. For one thing Yoshi plays dramatically differently from Mario, and the fact that he is constantly hampered by having to keep everyone’s favorite plumber safe gives the game a puzzle-lite element that no one saw coming.

The gorgeous animation and trademark level design only further raise SMW2’s status as an instant cult classic, and another great example of how going a different direction for a sequel, rather than retreading the original, can work wonders in the long run. (Mike Worby)

Best SNES Games #27. NBA JAM

NBA Jam was an absolute blast and perhaps the game I played the most as a young teen. It tore up the arcades from the day Midway released it, and drained every quarter from my wallet.

So when it was finally announced for release on Nintendo’s home console, I started saving my quarters instead, in order to ensure I had enough money to pick it up the day it came out. Whereas nowadays, sports games insist on realism, Midway delivered a frantic and oftentimes gravity-defying sports experience that gave us countless hours of fast-paced basketball action.

Reduced to two-on-two match-ups and featuring a super-powered roster (not to mention tons of unlockable characters), NBA Jam was the number one jam in my household. (Ricky D)

Demon's Crest Of the many incredible platformers for the SNES, Demon’s Crest remains one of the most underrated an overlooked (even if more and more retrospectives have been kind to it, it deserves to be considered alongside the Mega Man X, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World franchises). The third installment in the Gargoyle’s Quest series that began on the Game Boy, Demon’s Crest is also—unfortunately—the final game in the Ghosts ’n Goblins spin-off trilogy that follows Firebrand, that frustratingly hard-to-hit enemy from the main series. While game mechanics and a balance between challenge and reward typically bolster a platformer like this into ranks of the elite, Demon’s Crest is so memorable for its tone and atmosphere. Like Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid, Demon’s Crest is a moody piece with a dark color palette that is as immersive as many of the great RPGs for the console without the benefit of a carefully-constructed story. And although it is less an RPG-hybrid that the original Gargoyle’s Quest, its free-roam overworld and Crest scheme, which allows you to gain and use different abilities to complete the platforming challenges, separate the game from more streamlined platformers, such as the aforementioned Donkey Kong Country games. A relatively short game to complete, Demon’s Crest remains immensely replayable because of its ability to give the gamer such an engrossing experience, helped by yet another incredible OST (this is very much a common thread of the SNES greats). At a time when it seemed liked Capcom could do no wrong, Demon’s Crest is an example of true creativity, crafting a whole world around a throwaway enemy from a completely different series and delivering the third part of one of the most underrated series of all time.

Best SNES Games #26. Demon’s Crest

Of the many incredible platformers for the SNES, Demon’s Crest remains one of the most underrated an overlooked (even if more and more retrospectives have been kind to it, it deserves to be considered alongside the Mega Man X, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World franchises). The third installment in the Gargoyle’s Quest series that began on the Game Boy, Demon’s Crest is also—unfortunately—the final game in the Ghosts ’n Goblins spin-off trilogy that follows Firebrand, that frustratingly hard-to-hit enemy from the main series.

While game mechanics and a balance between challenge and reward typically bolster a platformer like this into ranks of the elite, Demon’s Crest is so memorable for its tone and atmosphere. Like Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid, Demon’s Crest is a moody piece with a dark color palette that is as immersive as many of the great RPGs for the console without the benefit of a carefully-constructed story. And although it is less an RPG-hybrid that the original Gargoyle’s Quest, its free-roam overworld and Crest scheme, which allows you to gain and use different abilities to complete the platforming challenges, separate the game from more streamlined platformers, such as the aforementioned Donkey Kong Country games.

A relatively short game to complete, Demon’s Crest remains immensely replayable because of its ability to give the gamer such an engrossing experience, helped by yet another incredible OST (this is very much a common thread of the SNES greats). At a time when it seemed like Capcom could do no wrong, Demon’s Crest is an example of true creativity, crafting a whole world around a throwaway enemy from a completely different series and delivering the third part of one of the most underrated series of all time. (Sean Colletti)

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Brasel The Gamer

    August 29, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Mortal Kombat II was so good you added it twice? 🙂

    • Ricky D

      August 29, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      wait whaaaaatttt? What would explain why a game that was supposed to make the cut didn’t. Sorry about this. I’ll fix it soon.

  2. Booski

    August 31, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Good list. Surprised not to see Out of This World or Killer Instinct. Also, Yoshi’s Island cracks at least top ten for me. But glad to see Super Metroid at 1.

    • Ricky D

      August 31, 2016 at 12:53 am

      As with all lists decided by a group of people, there are always a few games missing that should have made the cut. Not many people have played Out of This World so that isn’t a surprise but I was surprised that Killer Instinct didn’t make the cut. I guess most of us limited the amount of fighting games we voted for, and well, Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter II are the ones we chose.

      • Booski

        August 31, 2016 at 1:07 am

        Oh SF II and MK II top KI no doubt, and i totally understand limiting the fighting genre. Speaking of, ever played Saturday Night Slam Masters? Kind of a fun arcade style wrestling/fighting game made by Capcom. Not a great game by any means but worth waisting some time on with some buddies. Anyway, digging all the SNES anniversary love. Keep up the great work.

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PAX West Indies 2019 (Final) – feat. ‘Indivisible’, ‘Shovel Knight Dig’, and more

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Pax West 2019 Indies

After plenty of PAX coverage, I’ve finally got the last of the indies out of the way! There were too many good games to cover this year; hopefully you were able to find a few that caught your eye!

Indivisible

Indivisible is a game that, at this point, needs no introduction. From the creators of Skullgirls comes a new gorgeously 2.5D-animated game that seeks to bring back the gameplay popularized by Valkyrie Profile. After a successful crowdfunding campaign back in 2015, Indivisible will finally be releasing this October, and it’s shaping up to be worth the wait.

A pastiche of Southeast Asian mythologies, Indivisible’s story follows Ajna, a girl who sets out on an epic adventure to discover the origins of her mysterious powers. She’s joined by a colorful cast of heroes, each of whom possesses unique abilities that will help her both on and off the battlefield. Lab Zero’s signature 2D animation shines even brighter against a vividly designed 3D backdrop. Ajna’s world comes to life in a stunning array of colors and motion as you explore extensively detailed vistas and delve into fast-paced action-RPG combat.

With Skullgirls under their belt, developer Lab Zero is no stranger to game polish. The team brings back their fluidly stylish sense of design with a game that just feels good to play. While there are bits of platforming here and there, the real meat behind Indivisible lies in the combat.

True to Lab Zero’s fighting-game background, Indivisible calls for fast-paced strategic button-mashing as you control four characters in battle. A combination of button inputs, stick directions, and proper timing makes all the difference between hacking away at your enemy and truly comboing them down for big damage. You can’t just randomly button-mash, however. Each character has limited actions on your “turn”, so you need to be judicious with how you fight.

This game looks and feels pretty incredible; the four years in-development have clearly been well spent. With their release right around the corner, Indivisible is shaping up to be one of 2019’s most anticipated releases, an accolade that’s well-earned.

Bravery Network Online

If there’s one thing that Pokemon shares in common with Smash Bros., it’s that the competitive community has evolved far beyond the original scope. Pokemon Showdown, a browser-based Pokemon combat simulator, developed a strong following of players who wanted to do away with the fluff of catching and training to focus purely on the battles. Bravery Network Online is the result of a hardcore Showdown fan looking to to take the game even further that that.

Bravery Network Online is stylishly flashy, with an aesthetic that perfectly suits the punchy combat. Players pick from a pool of combatants, each with their own set of unique moves and stats. One of the big differences between BNO and Pokemon is the lack of type-effectiveness. Strengths and weaknesses are instead based around more of a binary “type” system of physical vs. technical, which still manages to keep the strategy of Pokemon types without their cumbersome granularity.

The other key difference in BNO’s combat is the “Flourish” mechanic. As your fights progress, you build up charges that can be stockpiled and used to augment existing abilities. These added bonuses might come in form of extra damage, higher hit rates, self-heals, etc. While BNO is undoubtedly built on the Pokemon framework, it’s different in all the right places to make it stand out as an evolution to the decades old franchise, rather than a copy of it.

Shovel Knight DIG

Ya know him. Ya dig him. It’s Shovel Knight, baby.

The Shovel Knight series has been the darling of the indie gaming scene ever since he first dug his way into our hearts more than five years. It’s not hard to see why: beyond the stellar gameplay, inspired by games like Mega Man and Ducktales, Shovel Knight himself is a helluva mascot. His striking design is up there with the best of them, and Yacht Club’s sense of style and color come back in spades with Shovel Knight Dig.

Unlike previous games in the Shovel Knight franchise, Shovel Knight Dig focuses on vertical movement rather than horizontal. The name says it all: your primary objective is to dig down, collecting treasure and smiting your enemies along the way. Skillful platforming is still required, but the inclusion of dirt blocks in Dig makes for some neat twists on the traditional platforming action. If Shovel Knight is adjacent to a dirt block, you can tap the “dig” button to rapidly shovel through blocks in one of the four cardinal directions.

The freestyle digging mechanics mesh wonderfully with the traditional action platforming. Yacht Club is a master of gamefeel design, with every step, every jump, every swipe of the shovel flowing smoothly from one input to the next. Shovel Knight Dig speeds up the pacing with enemies and environmental hazards that actively chase you down. Once you get into the rhythm of the mechanics though, you’ll find that digging comes just as easily as breathing.

Journey to the Savage Planet

Part No Man’s Sky, part Aperture Science, Journey to the Savage Planet has players embark on an intergalactic journey at great peril to their own wellbeing. You take on the role of an employee at Kindred Aerospace, rated 4th Best Interstellar Exploration Company, who has been dropped off on an uncharted planet in the faraway recesses of the galaxy. Either solo or with a friend, you’ll venture out into this savage wilderness and tame it for the benefit of all humanity (and a paycheck).

While it’s an FPS, combat takes a bit of a backseat in Journey to the Savage Planet. The demo at PAX featured two different enemy types, small rotund birds and flying electric jellyfishes, that acted more as environmental hazards than real threats. Savage Planet’s primary focus was on exploring, and the game gives you plenty of tools to do that. Set in a colorfully lush alien world, you run, jump, and zipline all across a wide expansive map as you chart out the unknown terrain. Fans of the Metroid Prime series will also enjoy the “scan” mechanic, which allows players to take a deep dive into their surroundings to uncover more about them.

Journey to the Savage Planet has a distinctly goofy feel to it that’s embodied in much of the game’s presentation. Your employer, Kindred Aerospace, makes a point of assuring you that you (and they) are galactic pioneers, charting out a course for humanity. Never mind the shoddy equipment, thinly veiled questionable business practices, or utter disdain for native flora and fauna. Journey to the Savage Planet also features co-op play, so you can trample on this lovely alien world with your friends!

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‘Majora’s Mask’ Dungeon by Dungeon: Stone Temple Tower

I will be looking at the dungeon design of the 3DS version of the game, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. This week is Stone Temple Tower.

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Halfway through my analysis of Link’s Awakening, Nintendo unveiled an adorable chibi-clay “reimagining” of that game for the Switch. In celebration of its upcoming launch, I will turn my eye from the strangest, darkest, most surreal portable Zelda to the strangest, darkest, most surreal console Zelda, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Majora’s Mask is arguably the Zelda game most open to hermeneutic critique, as its narrative themes run deep but somewhat vague, and it’s wholly original structure feels like postmodern art compared to the conservative story and character arcs of nearly every other Zelda. In this series, I will be looking specifically at the dungeon design of the 3DS version of the game, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. While this version makes several changes to the Nintendo 64 version, some of which are rather consequential and controversial, I am choosing to scrutinize this version because it is probably how most players currently play the game (plus, it’s the version I own that isn’t hundreds of miles away at my mom’s house). In this entry, I will be looking at the game’s third dungeon, Stone Temple Tower.

Stone Temple Tower

Stone Tower Temple’s name is a bit misleading, as it is more of a temple at the top of a stone tower than a stone tower itself. In fact, Stone Tower Temple is the least vertical of the four main dungeons, consisting of only nine rooms across three (but essentially two) floors. Aesthetically, the dungeon is premised around its stone theme, which is admittedly less inspired than Woodfall Temple, has less potential than Snowhead Temple, and is less vivacious than Great Bay Temple. Most of the dungeon dabbles in greys and browns which can get a bit bland, however they do lend the dungeon a visual clarity that is absolutely essential given Stone Tower’s unique navigational complexities. For example, a drab color scheme makes hidden elements, such as a treasure chests on the ceiling the player can grapple to, stand out from the backdrop. While occasional flourishes like wall sketches and the giant face in the main room lend the dungeon a bit more character, it would have been nice if this character came through more prominently in at least the rooms where visual clarity isn’t a necessity.

Stone Temple Tower, Majora's Mask

The dungeon’s layout may be where it shines brightest, as it plays equally well rightside up and topsy-turvy. This is a magnificent design feat that bests the previous year’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night at its own game in several regards. Aside from this famous inversion mechanic, the dungeon holds up incredibly well on a room-by-room basis. It houses some of the toughest puzzles so far, the most difficult and intentional platforming, and the most intricate combat scenarios. Moreover, the dungeon features some surprisingly varied use of the Mirror Shield in its first half (though angling it precisely can get tricky in a couple rooms), as well as fairy placement that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Great Bay Temple. The only downside to the fairy placement here is that since a couple are placed in well-hidden nooks and crannies, the player may have to flip the dungeon a couple extra times to find their last fairy or two, and that flipping process is grating. The aforementioned treasure chest grapple points should also be noted, both in how they ask the player to reconsider the salient properties of treasure chests, and in how they act as both a platforming mechanic and a reward. All of this said, it can sometimes be difficult to find the way forward when the player has to transition between levels, as the dungeon map doesn’t much help the player navigate its intricate layout. This is another instance of where the game could have benefited from a 3D map that more clearly gave the player a sense of how the dungeon’s different levels connect. In a couple moments, such as locating the upside-down treasure chest needed to reach the final boss door, the treasure chest is so well-hidden that many players probably hit a wall. It should also be noted that having to play the Elegy of Emptiness to weigh down switches so many times gets tiresome, makes backtracking especially obnoxious, and never feels like it is used to its full potential.

Stone Temple Tower, Majora's Mask

This flipping mechanic is the dungeon’s central gimmick, and while it is an incredible accomplishment in its own right, it also plays into Stone Tower Temple’s concern with perspective. Indeed, the player will find themselves actively searching almost every room of the dungeon multiple times from multiple angles, asking themselves what a room might look like upside-down or mentally bookmarking something currently out-of-reach knowing there may be a reward to reap there later. On a deeper level, this flipping mechanic instills an increased spatial awareness in the player that in turn inspires speculative, curious, perspective-conscious thought. It takes the dungeon’s three dimensions and adds another dimension to it, rewarding players who are especially observant and attuned to abnormalities. In many ways, the Zelda franchise has not seen this form of inspired dungeon design since, with even Breath of the Wild’s Divine Beasts failing to match the poignancy and immediacy of understanding how flipping a space upside-down impacts layout and traversal. Almost twenty years later, Portal is the only game that come to mind as matching Stone Tower Temple’s ability to recontextualize interior space in such a way that the player has to reevaluate that space from a totally unique perspective in order to play most meaningfully. While flipping is used expertly for navigation, it would have been great to take this one step further through enemy types, bosses, and more puzzles that integrate this mechanic (though this was likely technically infeasible on the N64).

And while the dungeon does not feature its own unique transformation mask, it uses the three from previous dungeons as well as those dungeons ever do. Actually, Goron Link is used to withstand heat (along with rolling), which many players may not even know is one of its unique abilities because it’s not required in Snowhead Temple. Meanwhile, Zora Link is used is for both swimming and underwater combat in areas more spacious (and therefore more suitable to the mask) than Great Bay Temple, and Deku Link is brilliantly integrated into a room with air currents of various power. On the whole, each mask is arguably used better here than in their respective dungeon, though not nearly as thoroughly (especially in combat, where masks are almost never required to fight a specific enemy). Having one multi-stage mini-boss that utilized all three mask types, for example, would have further integrated these transformations cohesively, and having them relate more directly to the dungeon’s flipping mechanic (such as swimming Mario Galaxy-like in a floating pool of water) could have pushed the masks and the dungeon’s central gimmick one step further (though again…technical limitations).

light arrow in the Stone Temple Tower

The dungeon’s item are the Light Arrows, which are yet again just another variation on the basic Arrows earned in Woodfall Temple. Fortunately, their strength and high-rupee rewards upon defeating an enemy make them especially useful in battle, and they are also the key to flipping the dungeon. It’s unfortunate, however, that there isn’t much use for them outside Stone Tower Temple, and that they essentially nullify the Mirror Shield by allowing Link to always have access to light. Combined with heavy mask usage, the Light Arrows can also be a magic drain, meaning players unequipped with some form of magic restoration may have to occasionally farm magic. While the player gets more mileage out of the Light Arrows here than in Ocarina of Time, a couple more unique properties could have made them feel more like a distinct item rather than just powered-up arrows that nullify the Mirror Shield.

Stone Tower Temple is home to a whopping fourteen enemy types, which represent the best enemy selection in the game as a whole. While the dungeon may be lacking a distinct theme, each of these enemy types somehow feels at home, and is almost always placed in a manner that synergizes with a room’s architecture and specialized challenges. Furthermore, some enemies, like the Eyegore, are unusually formidable, while others, like the Death Armos and Hiploop, require forethought and strategizing uncommon in normal baddies. Overall, this is a fantastic enemy palette that represents the pinnacle of Majora’s combat.

Link firing a light arrow.

Fortunately, the three(!) mini-boss fights play only substantiate Stone Tower Temple as having some of the best combat in the game. The Garo Master and Gomess, the dungeon’s first and third mini-bosses, are intricate Souls-lite swordplay scuffles that emphasize defense, timing, and pattern recognition. They are some of the most fully-realized enemies in the entire game and each is far more satisfying, interesting, and enjoyable than some of Majora’s actual bosses. And while Stone Tower does feature another Wizzrobe fight, it is at least slightly more difficult than past incarnations because his warp points are harder to target and his attacks deal more damage. Still, if Wizzrobe were one of two mini-bosses instead of one of three, he would have been supremely disappointing. 

Majora's Mask combat

The boss fight against Twinmold is certainly grand and climactic, but it is also clunky and boring. The first phase has the player shoot at the eyes of a giant flying centipede while dodging another giant flying centipede. While it has a Shadow of the Colossus-like vibe and premise, it can be incredibly difficult to track both bosses at once due to the game’s camera, so Link is often pummeled from off-screen at seemingly random intervals. Unfortunately, the second phase of the fight, which sounds cooler, is even more aggravating. After donning the Giant’s Mask, Link grows massive in stature and learns wrestling moves that allows him to smack, grab, spin, and throw the remaining flying centipede. Unfortunately, a mix of slow movement, shoddy hitboxes, and a far-too-large health bar ultimately make this fight incredibly slow and repetitive. In the end, Twinmold is not the worst boss in the game, but it ends up feeling the most disappointing because its potential is so obviously sky-high.

As a whole, Stone Tower Temple probably features the most consistently satisfying, varied, and innovative gameplay in Majora’s Mask. While fans primarily remember it for its fantastic flipping gimmick, it is just as remarkable for its vast array of combat scenarios, tricky navigational puzzles, and shrewd use of all three transformation masks. Its aesthetic and boss fight might not live up to their potential, but in terms of sheer level design, Stone Tower Temple remains one of the most ambitious and remarkable dungeons in the Zelda franchise. If Great Bay Temple was an inspiration for the Divine Beasts of Breath of the Wild, we can only hope that Breath of the Wild’s inevitable sequel takes a cue from Stone Tower Temple and makes a similarly remarkable evolutionary leap forward.

For deep dives into other levels from Majora’s Mask, as well as levels from other classic Nintendo games such as Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, click here.

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Game Reviews

‘Heave Ho’ Review: Us & Chuck

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Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise is a very similar task that involves swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. The game is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there are a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise involves the very similar task of swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. But Heave Ho is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there is a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Fingertips count in ‘Heave Ho’

There’s really not much to Heave Ho that warrants more explaining, as expressed via the world’s shortest tutorial at the beginning of the first level. Use the left analog stick for moving both of your character’s arms, press L or ZL for grabbing with the left arm, and press R or ZR for the right; that’s it. At least, that would be it, unless — and this is admittedly a somewhat niche bugbear — you’re a user of the neon red/blue launch Joy-Con, because their colors are flipped on the game’s assistance gloves. You can tell yourself you won’t be affected, but if you’re playing handheld and staring at bright blue and red in your own hands, you’re naturally going to associate those colors with the in-game hands.

A lot of the game feels flat solo, but these moments are still great

Upon acknowledgement of the incredibly basic controls, players are promptly (and literally) dropped straight into the level, left to fumble your way around the various objects and pitfalls en route to the goal. Striking a balance between careful, methodical navigation and reckless flinging is the key to success, with the former being more reliable and the latter being a hell of a lot more fun.

Heave Ho does feels a little forced in terms of its attempts at humor; it’s all very noisy, colorful and silly, which is obviously the point, and playing a game where you chuck a gangly anthropomorphic blob around with little-to-no coordination is never going to be the way to get your fill of sophisticated chuckles. I guess goofy wigs and obnoxious voices are funny to some people, but as the game gets harder and the challenges begin to frustrate, the humor is less of a mood lifter and more of an annoyance.

It all looks like fun and games here, but this world is horrific

The strength of a game like this will typically be measured in the number of laughs emanating from a packed living room, but its longevity will always be judged on how it endears as a solo experience. This is even more vital in the absence of online multiplayer, meaning you’re either playing with a house full of mates, or by yourself. I don’t have a house full of mates all that often, so the majority of my time with the game was playing solo, and that really doesn’t feel like the optimum way to get the most out of Heave Ho. The wacky, party-gaming hijinks sharply degenerate into a frustrating, often tedious slog when played alone.

The moments of intense satisfaction when nailing a long swing to a distant platform, or completing a particularly tricky level, shouldn’t be ignored, but they are too often mired by either boredom or anger. Easier levels require very little thought or technique to complete, and late-game ones are rage-inducing. This is exacerbated by the inexplicable decision from the developers to force players to complete all of an area’s levels in one run. There are no checkpoints after individual levels, so if you find yourself at a wall on the final level of a run and need a break from the game, you’re going to have to go back and complete all its preceding levels just to get yourself back.

I ain’t even gotta look!

This is a real mood-killer, and I found myself apathetically averse to trudging back through older levels to merely match the progress of a previous day’s attempts, especially when that previous day ended in frustration anyway. The type of game that Heave Ho is — one that builds itself on rapid-fire, bite-size challenges — just cannot benefit from forcing players into marathon sittings, especially when multiple people are required for optimum enjoyment.

Having online options would help, and it’s baffling as to why couch co-op and online co-op are mutually exclusive in some games. Playing an online game of Worms back on Xbox 360 was one of the most hilarious experiences I’ve had in any multiplayer game, and it’s such a shame to be denied even the potential for this with Heave Ho instead of being left to drag my tired fiancé to the TV for some forced hilarity. It might have been the worst possible litmus test for a party game, but were she writing this review it would have consisted largely of how “stressful,” she found it. I saw a few smiles, but perhaps the game isn’t as inclusive as it tries to present itself.

Two heads are definitely not better than one here

With the fiancé out of the potential player pool, I may bring Heave Ho out at a more receptive social occasion in the future, as the potential for communal hilarity is definitely there, but solo play is definitely not going to be something to engage in again. Perhaps if the necessary quality of life improvements were made — chiefly, being able to swap the colours of the assist gloves around and having a checkpoint after each level — then players might be more inclined to hammer away at it, but unfortunately, it’s likely to be just squirreled away as a potential curiosity rather than a go-to source of fun.

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20 Memorable Moments from Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’ Series

To commemorate The Walking Dead game series, we’ll be counting down 20 of the most memorable moments throughout the series.

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Recently rumours have surfaced that Telltale Games will be making a comeback following interest from a pair of investors. After the closure of the studio last year upcoming Telltale titles — such as The Wolf Among Us 2 –– were cancelled indefinitely but this news could mean that a revival of these games may be on the way. Skybound Games have also recently released The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Edition, a collection of all 4 seasons of The Walking Dead game alongside some bonus content such as concept art, music and commentaries. Due to this release, and the newfound hope for Telltale Games, now seems like a good time to reflect on the game that thrust Telltale into the spotlight: The Walking Dead. The series was halfway through its final season when Telltale closed its doors but Skybound Games jumped in to finish off the story of Clementine, the hugely beloved protagonist.

To commemorate The Walking Dead game series, I’ll be counting down 20 of the most memorable moments throughout the series.  A quick side note before we begin: when Telltale first closed down I wrote an article about the top ten moments from Telltale Games in general which included some Walking Dead moments. I will be using the same entries — with a few minor adjustments — if those moments find themselves on this list too, as my opinion has not changed.

*Major spoilers ahead for all 4 seasons of The Walking Dead.*

20. Kenny/Jane Flashback: A New Frontier

In Season Three, Clementine becomes a companion as the player takes on the role of a new character, Javier Garcia. We get some flashbacks as to what happened to Clementine in the gap between seasons two and three. There are multiple endings to season two, so it is the flashbacks that we get from two particular endings that are most memorable. In one ending Clementine can take baby A.J. and go with Kenny and in another she can leave with Jane. If the player leaves with Kenny, the flashback shows Kenny teaching Clementine how to drive. They get into an accident and Kenny is thrown through the windscreen, losing the feeling in his legs. To allow Clementine and A.J to escape, he uses himself as bait for walkers and gets eaten alive. This flashback is memorable for all the wrong reasons. It feels like a rushed and half thought out way of getting rid of Kenny to explain why Clementine is alone. For such a beloved character, it seems so wrong to merely dispose of him in order to wrap up a loose end. This ending for Kenny is an injustice to his character. Memorable doesn’t have to mean good! In the other flashback, Jane, Clementine and A.J return to Howe’s and are living comfortably enough. Jane sends Clementine to do a perimeter sweep but when she returns, she finds that Jane has hung herself. A distraught and confused Clementine finds a positive pregnancy test on the ground. This makes sense for Jane’s character. She was always a somewhat cold lone wolf who was uncomfortable with children. Finding out she was pregnant in a post-apocalyptic world would have been the worst possible outcome. She was a survivor who was willing to do whatever it took to stay alive and to have not one but two helpless babies in her care would not have been an option. There was also a somewhat selfish nature to Jane, so killing herself to avoid her pregnancy, and leaving Clementine and A.J alone, is a believable and fitting end to her story.

19. Clem Leaves to Search for A.J: A New Frontier

At the end of Season Three, Clem decides to venture out alone to search for A.J, the baby from Season Two who she had taken into her care. We see her navigating through walkers, taking them out confidently and with ease. This moment is a good representation of Clementine’s development through the years. Although she still had one more season to go, it was clear at this point just how much she has grown and matured since her introduction in season one. You can’t help but feel a connection with her if you have been playing the game since the beginning and seeing Clementine go it alone with a fierce determination about her made me feel proud of the person she had become.

18. Basement Scene: The Final Season

Something that I wasn’t expecting from The Final Season was a moment that felt like it was ripped straight out of a horror movie. Despite the horror zombie theme running through The Walking Dead series, it plays as an interactive point and click story rather than a horror game. In episode one of The Final Season, Clementine is locked in a basement with a character called Brody who has recently died. Clementine knows that Brody will turn into a walker soon, so she starts looking for a way to escape. The darkness of the basement is lit only by a flashlight which Clem goes to find. As she does, you can see that Brody’s body has gone. As the player maneuvers through the dark, disturbing noises can be heard as Brody slowly turns. It’s all very unsettling so I couldn’t help but feel a little unnerved. The creepiest moment comes when Clementine struggles to get the basement doors open and we then cut to Brody’s perspective as she approaches Clementine from behind. Just as Clem opens the doors, we see Brody’s zombified face appear behind her and drag her back into the dark. Of course, Clem survives the encounter but it is a genuinely scary moment due to the horror and suspense elements being crafted and utilized so well. It was a scene that left me feeling surprised, impressed and freaked out all at once.

17. Clementine’s Parents: Season One

From the beginning of the game, Clementine is certain that her parents are still alive and that she will find them. Voicemails left on Clementine’s house phone tell us that her father has been bitten but her mother’s fate is left ambiguous. Dialogue options allow the player to lie to Clementine but canon dialogue suggests that Lee is certain that they are both gone. This is more than likely the case but Clementine’s boundless optimism in the darkest of situations would give even the most cynical player some hope. When the group get to Savannah, Clementine is kidnapped and the final episode centres on Lee trying to get her back safely before his time runs out. He finally tracks her down in the hotel her parents had been staying and after covering her in walker guts to sneak her past a herd, Lee and Clementine begin their escape through the walker filled streets. As you navigate your way through the walkers, Clementine stops dead in her tracks with a horrified look on her face. We then see what has stopped her: the reanimated corpses of her parents aimlessly wandering the streets. It is in this moment that Clementine’s optimism is quashed. It doesn’t disappear entirely, but it certainly wanes from this point on. It is a turning point for her as a character as she has to stare the harsh reality of this new world in the face. There are no happy endings. There are only cold, hard facts. I myself was shocked by this too, having adopted some of Clementine’s positivity throughout my time playing. But I quickly realized that there was never really any hope for her parents, this was the harsh truth and perhaps I should have made Lee be more honest with Clementine about it from the start. This scene was impressive for the genuine gut punch it delivers as well as for being a pivotal moment for Clementine as a character.

16. The Walker Barn: The Final Season

An interesting new character from The Walking Dead: The Final Season is James, an ex-Whisperer who tries to convince Clementine that the walkers are more than just mindless monsters. When Clementine needs James to help her in the fight against Lilly, he only agrees on the condition that Clementine makes more of an effort to see things his way. To do this, Clem must don James’s walker skin mask and enter a barn full of walkers with the goal of touching the wind chime in the back. She reluctantly does so but when she reaches the wind chime and it starts to ring out, the walkers seem to look on in awe and confusion. James’s argument that there is a semblance of the person that they used to be within the walkers suddenly becomes far more convincing. The player can decide whether Clementine believes James might be right or not, but even if you remain unconvinced, it is hard not to see something vaguely resembling a human reaction when the walkers observe the wind chime. This is the first time in the game series that has suggested that there may be more to the walkers than first meets the eye. This is most likely not the case as Clementine later says, but it is hard not to see the expression in the eyes of the rotting corpses as they listen to the soft chimes. Jared Emerson-Johnson’s simple yet powerful music score for this moment is also one of the best in the entire game.

15. Clementine Dreams of Lee: The Final Season

Lee was such an important figure to Clementine as he taught her about survival and saved her life countless times so to see him again was a nice moment in The Final Season. Clementine dreams of Lee the night before she is due to lead an attack on Lilly and her group of raiders. She gets his advice and gives him an update of how things are going. Not only is it cool to see Lee’s updated character model in the new game engine, it is also good for Clementine to have one final moment with him to act as a form of closure to the series as a whole. I definitely felt emotional seeing Lee again, particularly when he comments on how big Clementine has gotten when he sees her at the age she is now. It was a great moment that wrapped up Lee and Clementine’s time together.

14. Duck Gets Bitten: Season One

Duck is one of the more polarising characters from The Walking Dead. Acting as the antithesis to the gentle and mild-mannered Clementine, Duck is the hyperactive, loud and somewhat irritating child of Kenny and Katjaa. Duck is well intentioned but it is difficult to find him anywhere near as likeable as Clementine. However, when it is revealed that he has been bitten by a walker in episode three, it is a sorrowful moment. Duck’s energy depletes more and more as he gets sick before either being put out of his misery by Lee or Kenny, or left to turn (depending on player choice). Kenny’s refusal to acknowledge the truth of Duck’s wound makes the situation all the more emotional. No matter what you thought of Duck, he was an innocent child who didn’t deserve the death he got. Duck’s bite and slow descent into death was memorable in that it showed that the game was very much in the same line as the corresponding comics. No one is safe.  Any man, woman or child can die at any second in this walker infested world.

13. Clementine and Sam: Season Two

A brief but memorable interaction from Season Two of The Walking Dead is Clementine’s time with a stray dog called Sam. She encounters him near an abandoned campsite and though wary of each other initially, the player can choose to interact with Sam in a way that suggests he could be a new companion for Clementine. It all seems to be going well until Clementine finds a can of food. Once she gets it open, the player can choose to offer some to Sam. No matter what they choose to do, Sam snatches the food and tries to eat it all. When Clementine tries to grab it back, Sam attacks her. He clamps his jaw onto her arm and the player must wrestle with the dog to stop him. Clementine kicks Sam just as he goes for her throat and he ends up being impaled on an old tent pole. This moment is  heart-breaking for both Clementine and the player. No matter how the player interacts with him, it is clear that Clementine and Sam like one another and she could have found herself a friend. As Sam lies dying, struggling and unable to move after his impalement, the player chooses whether they will leave Sam to die a slow and painful death or kill him outright to end his suffering. This is the final emotional blow in a scene that is already hard to watch.

12. Omid’s Death: Season Two

Another The Walking Dead scene that was difficult to watch was the opening moment from Season Two. Having lost Lee in the climax of Season One, Clementine becomes the playable character and is left with Omid and a heavily pregnant Christa. After stopping for a break at a gas station bathroom, Clementine makes the mistake of leaving her gun unattended. She ends up held at gunpoint with her own weapon as a teenage scavenger attempts to rob her. When Omid enters the bathroom to try and help Clementine, the shocked robber accidentally shoots him through the heart and kills him. Omid was one of the more likeable characters of Season One, despite being introduced late into the game, so to see him gunned down whilst attempting to protect Clementine is horrible. It is clear that Clementine blames herself for what happened due to leaving her gun to the side — as does Christa — which adds another dimension of sadness to this moment.

11. Katjaa’s Suicide: Season One

One of the most human and heart-breaking deaths in The Walking Dead game is Katjaa, Kenny’s wife and Duck’s mother. When Duck is bitten and on the verge of death, Katjaa and Kenny take him into the woods with the intent of putting him out of his misery. Although we don’t see it, we hear Katjaa suddenly turn the gun on herself. Katjaa was being incredibly strong about the situation and was far more grounded in reality about the situation then Kenny was. However, her sudden decision to take her own life made her character all the more tragic. Her strength faltered for one moment and she couldn’t handle it. Because of that, she made a split second decision. This was incredibly realistic and painful due to the sheer humanity of Katjaa’s thought process and her choice. The fact that it happens off screen and is still able to be so powerful is also testament to Telltale’s skill at constructing meaningful moments within their games.

10. Mariana’s Death: A New Frontier

You will probably notice that I haven’t included many entries from Season Three of The Walking Dead (also known as A New Frontier). It’s the weakest in the series of games and it doesn’t have quite as many iconic moments. However, there is one scene in particular that I always come back to when considering the game series as a whole. One of the faults of the series is, in my opinion, the decision to switch the focus to entirely new characters. Clementine is demoted to a supporting player in A New Frontier as the focus turns to Javier Garcia and his family. The characters aren’t nearly as easy to get emotionally attached to as the characters were in Season One and Season Two. Certain characters seem to act bitter and angry towards Javier no matter what dialogue you choose to use with them, such as Javier’s brother David and his nephew Gabe. Even Clementine seems surlier in this title (I can forgive her for that due to the fact that she is now a hormonal teenager). Despite that, there is one character that is sweeter in nature than the rest: Javier’s niece Mariana. Although the player only spends a small amount of time with her, her intelligence, maturity, creativity and soulful attitude instantly make her likeable. I couldn’t help but feel a connection to her and a desire to protect her, similar to the feeling that I got upon first meeting Clementine. At the end of the first episode, Mariana is suddenly shot through the head whilst retrieving her beloved headphones. It is not only a shock due to the unexpected nature of the moment but also emotional as Mariana is a good character who is still very young. For someone to callously shoot a little girl through the head is horrific, but very much aligned to The Walking Dead’s brutal style. Mariana’s death is similar to that of Duck’s, reminding us that children are certainly not safe from a gruesome death in this new and cruel world.

9. Lilly Returns: The Final Season

Lilly’s exit from The Walking Dead game was left open ended in Season One, no matter whether the player decides to leave her on the side of the road or not. Her return in The Final Season wasn’t a huge surprise due to trailers beforehand confirming her appearance but her relationship with Clementine is one of the more interesting elements. Clementine and Lilly had a good relationship in Season One. Though you don’t get to see much interaction between them, it is clear that Lilly cares for Clementine and wants to protect her as most of the other adults in the group do. In a sweet and familial gesture, Lilly is the one who gives Clementine the hair ties that she uses throughout the series. Things have obviously changed by the time that they meet again. Lilly is the lieutenant of a group of raiders from a haven called the Delta who are in search of soldiers to defend their home as they embark on a war with another group of survivors. This isn’t optional though and Lilly and her crew plan to kidnap those they want to recruit. They purposely travel to Ericson Boarding School to recruit the teenagers living there, having already taken some kids from Ericson beforehand.  It is here that Lilly meets Clementine again. Their meeting isn’t exactly a joyous one. Clementine is thrown to the ground; a boot is firmly planted on her neck and a gun pointed at the back of her head. It isn’t until Clem is kicked in the face that she is turned around and Lilly recognises her. The conversation between the two can differ depending on Lee’s actions in Season One. Lilly is harsh and disrespectful towards those who have died (not remembering Carley/Doug’s name and suggesting that Lee was a bad mentor) but if Lee showed her kindness then she has a slightly softer edge to her. If Clem chooses to acknowledge Lilly and not be aggressive, she will also be a tad more understanding. However, as the game progresses the relationship between the two gets even more strained and Clementine ends up going to war against Lilly with the Ericson kids. Lilly and Clementine’s reunion is very bittersweet. Lilly was always a tough character so a cheerful reunion wasn’t expected, but to see two people who were once like family turn to mortal enemies is saddening. The character development for both Lilly and Clementine that their meeting leads to is also an interesting element, making it one of the more memorable parts of the game series.

8. Lilly Shoots Carley/Doug: Season One

Episode Three of Season One of The Walking Dead is arguably the best episode of the entire series. So much happens in a short space of time and by the end of the episode, things are vastly different from how they started. Halfway through Episode Three, tensions are running high in the group of survivors. Lilly is close to breaking point due to having to watch her father die in brutal fashion in Episode Two.  When one of the group is found to be making a deal with bandits, Lilly is on a mission to find the culprit. As she tries to figure out who it was, she is pushed over the edge and snaps. She shoots Carley/Doug, whoever Lee saved in the first episode, and instantly kills them. The sudden death proved that Telltale weren’t afraid to kill off any of their characters and that everyone was expendable. It also showed how the horrors of the apocalypse can change people and turn them into ruthless killers. Lee is then left to choose whether to abandon Lilly on the side of the road or let her stay with the group, another tough player choice. The shocking murder and aftermath from Lee’s choice made for one of the most gripping episodes of the entire series.

7. Clementine Stitches Her Arm: Season Two

Clementine is shown to be a strong-willed and determined little girl, even from the very beginning of The Walking Dead game, when she was at her youngest. She continued to prove herself to be more than capable of surviving, but this moment in particular shows just how resilient she is. Clementine is left with a large gaping bite wound on her arm after the attack from Sam the dog. The new group she finds is suspicious of her bite so she is locked in a shed. After finding the items she needs to clean her wound and stitch it up, she sets about patching herself up. The player is forced to sew up Clem’s arm with a regular needle and watch as she screams and cries in pain. It’s hard enough to watch, but even harder having to control Clementine as she digs the needle into her flesh and her wound bleeds. Painful in every sense of the word, this moment not only shows that Clementine is more capable than most adults, yet alone an ordinary child, but also that Telltale are able to make their players squirm with a simple press of a button.

6. A.J. Shoots Marlon: The Final Season

One of the staples of The Final Season of The Walking Dead is the relationship between A.J and Clementine. A.J. was born in Season Two and after the death of his parents, Clementine adopts him as her own and raises him either alone, in Wellington or with Kenny or Jane depending on the player choice. No matter what the player chooses, Clementine is eventually reunited with A.J after he is taken from her by the New Frontier group from Season Three. She has been raising him ever since in a relationship that parallels the one between Clementine and Lee. The player has to be careful in what they say to A.J. as he is always paying attention, again in a similar fashion to how Clementine would take note of Lee’s actions (Clementine will remember that, after all). Being born into the apocalypse with no knowledge of the world before has made A.J tougher and less stable than Clementine was at his age. His decision to kill another human being at the end of the first episode shows just how warped his world view has become. Marlon is the leader of the Ericson Boarding School for Troubled Youths, where Clementine and A.J find themselves after the boarding school kids save them following a car accident. It is revealed at the end of the episode that Marlon has been making deals with bandits, letting them kidnap some of the students in exchange for leaving the others at the school in peace. Clementine confronts Marlon and they engage in a tense standoff with Marlon pointing his gun at Clem. It can end a couple of ways. Clementine can physically overpower Marlon or she can convince him to stand down and drop his weapon. What can’t be changed is A.J’s decision to shoot Marlon in the back of the head despite him surrendering. After he has killed Marlon, A.J. will then say that he did what Clementine told him to and he will repeat the phrase that she said to him earlier in the episode (either “aim for the head”, “don’t hesitate” or “save the last bullet for yourself” depending on player choice). The repercussions of Clementine’s teachings are highlighted here and I certainly started to wonder as to whether I had been teaching A.J the right things after this. In Season One, Clementine only killed when Lee was in mortal danger. This is not the same situation. Marlon had stood down. He had lowered his weapon. He was no longer a threat and yet A.J still found it necessary to kill him. I found myself feeling responsible for A.J.’s decision and that is what I believe makes this moment memorable. To engage the player enough for them to feel guilty on behalf of another character’s action is an impressive feat and Telltale pulls it off perfectly here.

5. The Return of Kenny: Season Two

The first Walking Dead season from Telltale was pretty brutal when it came to the final death count. One of those assumed casualties was Kenny, a lovable, albeit infuriating, character. His annoyance with player character Lee if you didn’t side with him at all times was a cause of frustration for many, but Kenny clearly had a good heart. When his family are taken from him, you can’t help but feel his pain. Although the death of his wife and child is a powerful moment in itself, Kenny’s return in Season Two represents some hope and light in an unforgiving world. Clementine is left entirely alone after the opening of Season Two so having a trusted person come back into her life, one she assumed was dead, is a positive thing for her. It is a far more positive outcome in comparison to her reunion with Lilly. Kenny goes through an interesting character arc as it becomes clear he is still fighting demons. He’s clearly traumatized by what happened to his family. He even seems to have regrets in the way he treated Lee, if the player did not always take his side. Kenny is a flawed but endearing character and his return allows for more character development, as well as giving Clementine a member of her new family back.

4. Clementine Gets Bitten: The Final Season

Toward the end of the last episode of The Final Season, the unthinkable happens: Clementine gets bitten. After an encounter with the brainwashed Minerva on a bridge, Clementine ends up with a massive axe wound on her leg. Unable to move quickly, she and A.J. end up trapped with walkers closing in. A.J. scrambles up a rock and attempts to help Clementine up after him. She isn’t able to move quickly enough and a pursuing walker bites her on the ankle. It is a horrible moment to watch, seeing the character that we have kept safe all this time finally meeting the fate that fans of the series were so afraid of. As Clementine checks her ankle, the player has to slowly open her boot and the tension is palpable as you do so. The music disappears and all you can hear is Clementine’s laboured breathing as she makes the discovery of teeth marks on her already mangled leg. Players who have completed the game know that this isn’t the end of Clementine –more on that later– but to see her grow weaker and weaker as she succumbs to her bite is pretty excruciating. A.J. and Clementine take shelter in a barn where she collapses to the ground, no longer able to move.  She props herself up and instructs A.J. on how to secure the area as walkers attempt to get in. The scene is a direct reflection of the Season One ending, where Lee teaches Clementine to defend herself and helps her escape, whilst he sits on the floor unable to move. It is harrowing to see Clementine succumbing to the same fate as her protector, as she also teaches her ward how to go it alone. The scene makes the story come full circle, with Clementine saying her last goodbyes to A.J. and asking him to kill her as Lee did (players can also decide to tell A.J. to leave her there as with Lee). The strong parallels with Season One symbolise the completion of Clementine’s journey with the player and it is a memorable, and particularly affecting, scene.

3. Lee Gets Bitten: Season One

In Season One, Clementine goes missing at the end of the fourth episode whilst the group is in Savannah looking for a boat to escape. Intent on finding her parents, Clementine puts her trust in a stranger and, of course, it ends badly. As Lee, the player starts searching the house they are holed up in to try and find her. Lee becomes panicked as he spots Clementine’s hat and her radio outside of the fence. As the player reaches down to pick up the radio, a hidden walker lashes out and takes a bite out of Lee’s wrist. I still remember playing this part of the game for the first time years ago. I remember feeling absolute shock as the camera panned down to reveal the bite mark on Lee’s wrist. Lee starts to panic, saying “No!” over and over, and clutching at his wrist. His reaction wasn’t too different from my own. As soon as you realize he has been bitten, you know he is going to die. I had grown attached to Lee’s character as he had brilliant development through the series as well as an interesting arc and back story. Knowing that this was the end for him was so upsetting. Tension and anticipation also make up the scene, with the radio crackling as the player approaches just before Lee picks it up. You can tell something is going to happen, but can’t be sure what. This masterful approach to suspense, combined with the genuinely saddening and emotional moment, and Dave Fennoy’s fantastic voice acting, is what makes Lee’s bite one of the most memorable moments in The Walking Dead series.

2. Clementine is Alive!: The Final Season

After Clementine is bitten, we see A.J swing his axe down before the screen cuts to black. It’s assumed that he has put Clem out of her misery, and we begin playing as A.J. A.J is going about life at Ericson and catching some fish for dinner when he sees Clementine’s hat floating down the river (Clem lost her hat during the attack on Lilly and the raiders). As he carries the hat back to Ericson, Alela Diane’s ‘Take Us Back’ starts to play and some of the other kids join him on the way. This is the same song that plays during the credits of Season One, so it is assumed that this is the end of the game. A.J. has finally found a home and is living out his life with the boarding school kids whilst remembering the teachings that Clem gave him, just as Lee did for Clementine. However, upon his return we see that Clementine is actually alive but now missing a leg. Again, this is a moment that I remember well as I felt such emotion upon playing it. I think I may have audibly cheered. I had shed a tear over Clementine’s faux death — just as I did over Lee — and had resigned myself to the fact that she was gone. Seeing her limp onto screen, crutch in tow, was such a brilliant moment. Of course, if you think about it too much it doesn’t make that much sense. How could A.J, who can’t be more than 6 or 7, have managed to cut off a grown teenager’s leg? The axe he used was also covered in walker blood so surely if Clementine hadn’t bled out, she would have still been infected. How did A.J manage to get Clem back to the school by himself before she died of blood loss?? These are all valid questions which would usually seriously bug me, but I honestly did not care for any of it. All I cared about was that this character, who I had come to love after protecting her and watching her grow up and survive in a new and brutal world, was alive. Clementine has become such a beloved character amongst the gaming community that Skybound were able to save the game from complete cancellation. That wouldn’t have happened if the players hadn’t resonated with her the way that they did. We, as a community, needed the conclusion of her story and, thanks to Skybound, we were able to see her get the ending she deserved. The player’s role of Clementine ends in the barn as the player takes on the role of A.J. in the epilogue as he chats to Clem. Melissa Hutchison gives an impressive and tearful performance as Clem as she asks A.J. if she has done a good job taking care of him after spending so much time running and looking for somewhere to call home. She then hands over her hat to A.J., hanging it up for good, both physically and symbolically. Again, the emotion is potent here as we have experienced everything that Clementine has been through to finally get to this point. She can rest now, even if it is with only one leg. Clementine surviving her bite may not be entirely logical, but if there is anyone who deserves a happy ending (or as happy an ending as you can get from The Walking Dead) it is certainly our sweet pea Clementine. Lee will remember that.

1. Goodbye Lee:  Season One

Having played through Season One of Telltale’s The Walking Dead multiple times, I can say with honesty that I still cry at the ending. Moving, brutal and emotionally crippling, Season One culminates with Lee succumbing to his bite and suffering one of two fates, depending on player choice. Choice one is to be shot in the head by Clementine, the little girl who you’ve given your life to protect. Choice two is to be left to turn into a walker, arguably a fate worse than death. So there are no winners here, no matter what you pick. Lee is an excellent protagonist, his dark past makes him a criminal and this contradicts his role of protector to Clementine. He isn’t perfect. He has made mistakes and continues to do so as you play. But he is believable as a flawed, but ultimately well-meaning, man. A man who sees his opportunity to redeem himself by saving, and taking care of, Clementine. To see him bitten at the end of episode four is a painful moment but watching him deteriorate through episode five, and eventually die, is excruciating. You feel a connection with him, a person struggling to do the right thing and protect those he cares about, despite the end of the world situation. As he and Clementine have a final moment together, it becomes clear that it has all led to this. That you have taught her how to survive, how to behave, but also how to say goodbye. The final words and last goodbye that he and Clementine share are, in my opinion, the most powerful and memorable of any Telltale game. And make sure to keep that hair short.

The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows.

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Games

‘Final Fantasy VIII’: A Beloved Black Sheep

If the the general operative way to make a sequel to a massive success like Final Fantasy VII would be to give people more of the same, only bigger and better, Squaresoft opted for something of a different approach.

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When Final Fantasy VII emerged on the scene back in 1997, it changed the way gamers looked at, and experienced, JRPGs. With its flashy cutscenes, cool aesthetic and myriad of anime badasses, Final Fantasy VII pulled off the seemingly impossible task of making RPGs cool. It also gave RPGs a breath of fresh air, exposing them to the mainstream and earning them a much bigger slice of the gaming industry. Then came Final Fantasy VIII.

If the the general operative way to make a sequel to a massive success like Final Fantasy VII would be to give people more of the same, only bigger and better, Squaresoft opted for something of a different approach. In fact, Final Fantasy VIII was so wildly different from its predecessor that it wouldn’t be stretch to call them polar opposites.

Where FFVII took place in a world that was dark, moody and foreboding, FFVIII was bright, colorful and drenched in sunlight. Where VII began in the desolate slums of a fascist, dystopian nightmare, VIII opened in the sort of beautifully-rendered, futuristic facility that would be right at home in paradise. Though Final Fantasy VI  and VII were separated by an entire hardware generation, there similar venues of dark steampunk and darker cyberpunk make them far more comparable in terms of their look and feel then VII and VIII.

Final Fantasy VIII

Beautiful scenes like this would be wildly out of place in Final Fantasy VIII’s predecessors.

The characters were just as distinctly different. There were no caped monster men or gun-armed maniacs here, just 6 high school students of relatively similar age, build and disposition. From the magic system to the way experience was garnered, from the way that weapons were upgraded to the method with which players earned money, Final Fantasy VIII re-did literally everything VII had built, right from the ground up.

This comparison goes a long way toward explaining Final Fantasy VIII and its strangely disjointed place in the series. Where VI, VII, IX and are all fondly and widely remembered, VIII is more stridently beloved by a small group of loyalists. Despite its strong reviews and fantastic salesFinal Fantasy VIII found itself slipping further and further from the series’ limelight as the years passed by.

Now, however, with the release of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, the black sheep of the mainline Final Fantasy franchise has gained a new lease on life. As one of the last of the golden age titles in the series to finally reach a mass market rerelease, FFVIII finally has a chance to redeem itself from years of teasing and jibes about its confounding junction system and endlessly plot-twisting time compression storyline.

Final Fantasy VIII

Despite the games often sunny disposition, scenes of nail-biting suspense were often just around the corner.

Getting down to brass tacks, there was indeed a LOT to learn from the outset. Critics of the game are absolutely right in one respect: this game is complicated. If that weren’t readily apparent, the seemingly never-ending stream of tutorials that unfold over the course of the games first 10 hours oughta clue you in real quick. How to junction a GF, how to draw magic, how to junction magic, how to switch junctions, etc. You’ll be reading the word junction so much, you’ll think you’re watching an educational special.

With that said, though, once you’d finally mastered the many idiosyncratic elements of the junction system, you’d never felt more powerful in your life. Junctioning Ultima to strength, Full-Life to HP, and casting some Aura magic could make short work of just about any threat the game threw at you, and that’s just one of dozens of strategies that the malleable junction system provided players with. As Quistis points out early on, junctioning a status effect like blind or sleep to your elemental attack attribute could render seemingly insurmountable enemies relatively harmless in one fell stroke.

Of course, the complex nature of such a system could not be overstated. If anyone were to read this who hadn’t played the game, I’m sure it would come across as absolute jibberish. That’s part of the charm of Final Fantasy VIII though: like many a beloved cult classic, this game is as uncompromising and unabashedly against the grain as a sequel we might get from the likes of David Lynch.

Few JRPGs are peppered with as much colorfully silly levity as Final Fantasy VIII.

The same goes for the magic system. While drawing magic from draw points and enemies is initially confusing, the amount of freedom it gives the player to stock up on spells and utilize them for a myriad of purposes was utterly earth-shattering. The fact that entire GFs (Guardian Forces) could be missed just because the player forgot to check the draw options on a particular boss was the kind of kick in the general genital region that made a game like Final Fantasy VIII worth going back to at least once more after completion.

Upgrading weapons with collected materials was also very different. No more just buying the next awesome sword from a new vendor, the player would instead need to find a Weapons Monthly issue for the information on the upgrade, and then mine the respective materials needed to improve their weapon. Finally, the SeeD salary system ranked and evaluated the player as they made their way through the game. No more earning a shower of gil just for offing a few enemies, if you weren’t representing the SeeDs and Gardens in an optimal fashion, your pay would suffer as a result.

Outside of gameplay, these wild 180 degree turns continued in Final Fantasy VIII‘s plotline.  Following the hard science fiction bent of the story of FFVIII could be a task in and of itself. A game that ostensibly begins with high school mercenaries being dispatched to aid rogue organizations around the world eventually evolves into an endless battle across space and time with a sorceress from the future. Meanwhile, some of the most seemingly important plot points in the game, such as Squall’s parentage, or the party’s connection with Laguna and company, are resolved only in the background. Players looking to piece together the many disparate elements of this story will have to put on their Dark Souls helmets and do a bit of individual exploration if they want answers.

The keyart for the game, presented after the opening cinematic, immediately makes the focus of Final Fantasy VIII clear.

The way the game focused on love as an essential motivation is also unique to the series. Though there had been love stories in Final Fantasy games prior to this, they never offered this much depth and emotion. Essentially the central character arc of the game, that of Squall Leonhart, is that of a damaged, emotionally bereft man opening up and learning to love again after suffering loss in the form of childhood traumas. The importance of this focus cannot be overstated. Final Fantasy VIII is a love story first and foremost, and anyone who might doubt that prospect need look no further than the keyart that accompanies the title sequence.

This focus on love, and its healing power, offers Squall perhaps the most fascinating character arc of any in the Final Fantasy franchise. Ostensibly a cold, apathetic loner at the outset, Squall transforms over the course of the story into a man who’s willing to throw caution to the wind if it means saving his friends or his love. Take, for example, the sequence toward the end of the game wherein Squall hurtles himself into the depths of space to save Rinoa, with absolutely no plan on how he might make his return. His love is so important to who he is, and what it has made him, that he would rather die than let it go.

The defining moment for this character, Squall, is unimaginable to players who first meet him sulking and brooding his way through the little monologue snippets that play in his mind. Even in the middle of the story, he opts to send Zell to save Rinoa from a potentially fatal fall, only going himself when there appears to be no other option. This gradual arc from stoic and closed off to open and supportive is still fascinating over 20 years later, and one of the key charms of Final Fantasy VIII.

The heartfelt love story between Squall and Rinoa remains one of the games greatest strengths all these years later.

Back in the fold and better than ever after 2 decades, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered has given the beloved black sheep of the Final Fantasy family a new lease on life, and a second chance to redefine its legacy. Whether it’s your first time venturing into this mad little piece of fiction or you’re coming back for the 10th replay, there’s never been a better, or more convenient, way to experience this one of a kind story.

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